Friday, November 30, 2018

Gospel According to Mark Overview

The account of Jesus' trial in John 18:33-37 was the assigned gospel reading for the last Sunday of the Church's Year of Grace, Reign of Christ; instead of an overview of the nature of Jesus' authority and reign, we did an overview of Mark's gospel to assess where Mark has taken us during lectionary year B, and to prepare for Revised Common Lectionary Year C that will feature Luke, another of the three synoptic gospels.

All four canonical gospels show us Jesus has complete lordship, rule, kingship, sovereignty over every aspect of life: political; economic; religious; cultural; spiritual; social. The Reign of Jesus the Christ is comprehensive and touches everything we are, everything we do..

Mark is one of the three synoptic gospels with a similar (syn) viewpoint (optic) of Jesus' life and ministry, despite each having a distinctive style or personality.

As I've been saying for the past twelve months, Mark is the earliest and shortest gospel—the one for texters and tweeters. Mark is urgent and direct. Especially for Mark and Luke, the journey to Jerusalem and the cross is relentless and incessant. Mark is the only canonical gospel that styles itself gospel or good news. Prior to Mark, "gospel" was the returning Roman emperor's (actually bad news) announcement of victory that had vanquished his enemies in violent death and destruction; Mark subverted the word gospel (that literally means good news) into God's proclamation of the victory of life.

Mark brings us a fair amount of apocalyptic, a style of writing that draws upon symbols and signs, frequently taken from nature. Similar to epiphany, apocalypse means revealing or unveiling. Last week Steve suggested apocalyptic was about the future; it truly is, but instead of speaking directly, it uses symbolic words and natural objects that require interpretation. Mark and all the gospels bring us the end of the world as we've known it. Mark is highly counter-cultural, anti-religious, anti-economic, anti-political establishment. Mark constantly asks where we find God; and answers not in the temple, not in conventional religious, economic, or political structures, but outside the center, on the edges, on the underside of polite convention and typical expectations. Ultimately, we find the fullest revelation of God in the human Jesus of Nazareth dying outside the city on a cross of shame.

Unlike the other three gospels, Mark includes no birth narrative and no actual resurrection account in the easiest manuscripts, though your bible probably has a resurrection story tacked on at the end. Mark opens with "The beginning of the gospel." People forever have asked is that beginning the first paragraph of Mark's chapter 1, the entire 16 chapters of Mark, or is everywhere and every time still the beginning of the good news of death and resurrection, the end of the world as we've known it?

Mark famously and uniquely includes the messianic secret—when Jesus says or does something astonishing, he often advises everyone not to tell anyone. It's not about signs and wonders that easily impress humans, it's about the cross. Mark starts out with "Jesus, son of God"; at Jesus' death a Roman soldier announces, "truly this was a son of God." At the cross, Jesus' life, identity, and purpose no longer are secret, but recognized and revealed by an outsider. Outsiders, strangers, or others not part of Jesus' Jewish community recognizing Jesus' identity and purpose is another Markan theme.

Each of the four gospels opens Jesus' public ministry with a different type of event that then continues as a theme of that gospel. Mark goes from Jesus' wilderness baptism by John, to the Spirit driving him into a deeper wilderness where he experience temptations (Matthew and Luke describe the temptations, Mark doesn't), then returning to Galilee and calling the first disciples. After those events, Jesus exorcises (expels, casts out) a demon from a man during a synagogue service—Mark 1:21-26. Mark (and Jesus, of course) continues subverting and overthrowing structures, events, people, and impulses that interfere with human freedom.

Next Sunday with Advent, the church begins a New Year of Grace that will feature the gospel according to St. Luke. Stay tuned!

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